Helping patients live longer through clinical trials
To get cutting-edge research from the lab to helping people, the Canadian Cancer Society (CCS) supports clinical trials, which are research studies that test new ways to prevent, detect, treat or manage cancer. Recently, two clinical trials funded in part by CCS made headlines because they changed the way we treat pancreatic and breast cancer worldwide and are helping those affected live longer, better lives.
The first trial was related to breast cancer, which is the most common cancer among Canadian women. This clinical trial used genetic testing to gauge a patient's breast cancer risk, and found that many women with the most common early-stage form of the disease could safely skip chemotherapy without hurting their chances of staying cancer-free. This means that thousands of women each year will be spared from the toxic side effects of chemotherapy.
The second trial focused on pancreatic cancer, one of the most difficult to treat and deadly cancers. After factoring in how fast the cancer is growing and how much cancer there is in a patient’s body, roughly 10–20% of patients with this disease are eligible to have surgery, followed by chemotherapy to remove their tumours to reduce the odds of the cancer returning (called a relapse). This is a critical issue because nearly three-quarters of these patients experience a relapse.
The clinical trial found that a new 4-drug chemotherapy combination was more effective than the existing treatment approach in delaying cancer relapse and extending survival. Patients who received the new treatment remained cancer-free for 9 months longer and lived, on average, 1.5 years longer than those given the standard chemotherapy. Twice as many patients given the new treatment were disease-free three years after their surgery as those on the standard treatment, giving patients more precious time with their loved ones.
“These trial results demonstrate that patients who receive this treatment after surgery are almost twice as likely to survive,” says Dr Jim Biagi, a researcher and oncologist at the Cancer Centre of Southeastern Ontario at Kingston General Hospital. “This is life-changing for these patients and should impact
how we treat pancreatic cancer around the world.”
For this trial, Dr Biagi helped to recruit patients in Kingston and Toronto. One of these patients was Kathleen Kennedy.
“I knew that there could be risks, but I also knew that it would be helpful – if not immediately to me, then for other pancreatic cancer patients in the future,” says Kennedy. “Now, three disease-free
years later, I feel so blessed that this treatment has given me more time with my husband, children and grandchildren.”
Both trials were conducted through the Canadian Cancer Trials Group (CCTG) based in Kingston, Ontario. Last year, CCS invested $4.7 million in CCTG to fund life-saving clinical trials across the country.